For­mer Pol­ish pres­i­dent de­fends Bi­den, Burisma

Times-Herald (Vallejo) - - FRONT PAGE - By Vanessa Gera

Alek­sander Kwas­niewski said that Hunter Bi­den be­ing cho­sen for ad­vi­sory board is sim­ply how busi­ness works.

WAR­SAW, POLAND >> Alek­sander Kwas­niewski, a for­mer Pol­ish pres­i­dent who is on the board of the Ukrainian gas com­pany Burisma, said Thurs­day that Hunter Bi­den was in­deed cho­sen to join its ad­vi­sory board be­cause of his name. He said that is sim­ply how the world of busi­ness works.

But Kwas­niewski in­sisted in an in­ter­view with The As­so­ci­ated Press that Bi­den was an ac­tive board mem­ber who helped the com­pany, and that he never used his re­la­tion­ship with his fa­ther, Joe Bi­den, to fur­ther the com­pany’s in­ter­ests.

“I un­der­stand that if some­one asks me to be part of some project it’s not only be­cause I’m so good, it’s also be­cause I am Kwas­niewski and I am a for­mer pres­i­dent of Poland,” he said. “And this is all in­ter­con­nected. No-names are a no­body. Be­ing Bi­den is not bad. It’s a good name.”

Kwas­niewski also said Burisma mem­bers never tried to use Hunter Bi­den to curry fa­vor with the ad­min­is­tra­tion of Barack Obama when Joe Bi­den was vice pres­i­dent.

“He was a nor­mal mem­ber of this group,” he said. “We didn’t ask him — and he never said any­thing — about his fa­ther.”

Only at din­ners was Bi­den some­times asked how his fa­ther was do­ing and on one oc­ca­sion Bi­den spoke about the death of his brother, Beau, Kwas­niewski said.

He said Hunter Bi­den car­ried out re­search and brought a unique Amer­i­can per­spec­tive to the com­pany, in­clud­ing in the ar­eas of cor­po­rate gov­er­nance, cap­i­tal mar­kets and gas drilling equip­ment, where Amer­i­cans are world lead­ers.

“He col­lected in­for­ma­tion,” Kwas­niewski said.

“He was use­ful for us be­cause he knew some­thing that we didn’t know.”

Bi­den’s time on the board from 2014 to 2019 has be­come a fo­cus of the im­peach­ment hear­ings into Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump. Trump is un­der scru­tiny for press­ing Ukraine’s young new pres­i­dent, Volodymyr Ze­len­skiy, to carry out in­ves­ti­ga­tions into the Bi­dens and Burisma, with­hold­ing for a time nearly $400 mil­lion in mil­i­tary aid as a war drags on in Ukraine’s east against Rus­sia-backed sep­a­ratists.

Kwas­niewski said re­quests made to Ukraine’s pros­e­cu­tor by Trump’s per­sonal lawyer Rudy Gi­u­liani, seek­ing to ob­tain com­ments de­pict­ing Burisma as cor­rupt, cre­ated a dan­ger­ous sit­u­a­tion for the com­pany.

Asked to re­spond to Trump de­scrib­ing Hunter Bi­den as a “dis­grace” due to his Burisma con­nec­tion, Kwas­niewski shot back: “This man is speak­ing about some­one who is disgraced? Don­ald Trump? It should be for­bid­den for him.”

Nev­er­the­less, some U.S. of­fi­cials at the time thought it was in­ap­pro­pri­ate for Hunter Bi­den to be serv­ing on the com­pany’s board when his fa­ther, as vice pres­i­dent and Obama’s emis­sary to the re­gion, was push­ing Ukraine to clean up sys­temic cor­rup­tion.

Dur­ing the im­peach­ment in­quiry this fall, Ge­orge Kent, a ca­reer diplo­mat over­see­ing Ukraine pol­icy, tes­ti­fied that in 2015 he warned the vice pres­i­dent’s staff that his son’s po­si­tion with the com­pany “could cre­ate the per­cep­tion of a con­flict of in­ter­est” but noth­ing was done about it.

Burisma founder Mykola Zlochevsky, who had been the min­is­ter of nat­u­ral re­sources un­der for­mer Pres­i­dent Vik­tor Yanykovych, ran into trou­ble af­ter Yanukovych’s 2014 ouster. Pros­e­cu­tors ac­cused him of abus­ing his po­si­tion to em­bez­zle state money.

It was in that con­text in 2014 that Kwas­niewski, Hunter Bi­den and oth­ers were in­vited onto the board as part of a strat­egy by Burisma to clean up its rep­u­ta­tion.

His strat­egy worked and the com­pany has con­tin­ued op­er­at­ing. How­ever, Zlochevsky, who lives abroad, is still fac­ing a probe on sus­pi­cions of large-scale em­bez­zle­ment.

CZAREK SOKOLOWSKI — THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Alek­sander Kwas­niewski, a for­mer Pol­ish pres­i­dent and cur­rently a board mem­ber for Ukrainian gas com­pany Burisma, speaks to The As­so­ci­ated Press in his of­fice in War­saw, Poland, Thurs­day.

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